There's a long way to go and the Phillies remain, after all, in first place in a National League East Division that has yet to show another club as a worthy challenger.
Still, the danger signs keep popping up around Citizens Bank Park, and the citizens who pack the place for just about every game are getting restless. Understandably. It's the third week of June and they have witnessed just 13 wins in South Philly.
Last night, for the first time in a week, the Phillies got something out of a starting pitcher that was good enough to help a good-hitting club grab a win. Lefthanded rookie Antonio Bastardo had one bad inning among the seven he pitched and finished by allowing four runs before Jack Taschner let the game get out of hand in the ninth inning of a 7-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
The problem was that the Phils weren't a good-hitting club, and the Orioles became the third team from the American League East to enjoy their visit in the last week.
"It seems like the last week or so we can't get our game together," said manager Charlie Manuel, who insisted he was remaining patient, for now. "[On Thursday] we scored runs, but we didn't hold them. That's kind of how we've been playing. That's kind of where we're at."
But the patience of the paying customers is running thin. Fans booed the defending World Series champions heartily before heading for the exits when Nick Markakis made the result official with a two-run double off Taschner in the ninth.
The Phillies' loss to the AL East bottom-dwellers dropped them to 1-6 on this nine-game homestand. The players are sick of being asked why they can't win at home, but they aren't doing anything about it. So it gets uglier. The Phillies' home mark dropped to 13-20, third worst in the big leagues, and they are 8-19 in their ballpark if a 5-1 record against the lowly Washington Nationals is discarded.
Last night, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard combined to go 0 for 11, not the kind of numbers Manuel had in mind when he expressed confidence that his lineup would score plenty of runs despite the loss of Raul Ibanez with a strained left groin for at least two weeks.
Manuel doesn't like what he is seeing from the hitters.
"I think we're definitely swinging at a lot of balls out of the strike zone," Manuel said after the Phils managed only six hits, with both runs coming off a Jayson Werth double in the first inning. "But my concern is we don't follow the ball good. In order to hit the ball, you have to stay on it and follow it. If you're up in the count and you're chasing balls in the dirt and missing by a large margin, that's pretty hard to correct. It's a basic thing. To put the bat on the ball, you've got to watch it. Some of the swings we take, I scratch my head and wonder."
The game provided an early test of Bastardo's resilience. The rookie's first two starts after he was called up from triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 2 to take Brett Myers' roster spot were encouraging. He won both, allowing three runs in 11 innings, and drew cautious praise from Manuel for his lively arm and competitive nature. But the manager wondered aloud how Bastardo would react after he'd gotten roughed up a bit, as he did last Saturday by the Red Sox.
"I thought Bastardo pitched pretty good," Manuel said. "He had a tough second inning. The bottom line is we didn't hit."
Werth gave Bastardo a little margin for error with his double off lefthander Rich Hill in the first inning. The margin quickly disappeared when Matt Wieters duplicated Werth with a two-run double in the second, and Hill poked a two-out single to score Wieters for the eventual winning run.
Bastardo recovered, retiring the next nine batters, and was a good defensive play away from holding the Orioles scoreless in the sixth.
Talked into it by first-base coach Davey Lopes, Manuel switched rookie John Mayberry Jr. from right to left field before the game. Werth returned to his customary position in right.
But with Markakis on first and one out in the sixth, Mayberry went back to the wall to field Aubrey Huff's drive. At first, Mayberry turned the wrong way. When he reached to make the catch, the ball hit off the wall slightly below his glove and Markakis scored to make it 4-2.
Bastardo did his job. He gave up five hits, struck out five and walked none and became the first Phillies starter to last seven innings since Joe Blanton eight days ago against Boston. In short, he kept the Phils in the game and gave some weary arms in the bullpen a desperately needed night off.
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